The Volunteer Score Card

12316(I wrote this opinion piece for my local newspaper last week and as of today I’m still getting hate mail. I’m a little confused to what ticked people off so badly. Oh sure, I knew it would tick some people off but just wow on the number of emails I’ve been getting.)

As a parent you scribble your name on a lot of stuff – everything from reading logs to band practice sheets. But one thing I won’t sign my name to is anything that has to do with volunteering or community service. I won’t sign a piece of a paper, a diary, a journal, a ledger – basically if it tracks and tallies up how many hours my kids spent doing “service” I’m not interested. It’s not because I don’t fully believe in giving back and I’m certainly not anti non-profit – my husband works for one. What I’m against is teaching our children that the act of being a decent human being is something you need to diligently record and be rewarded for.

This is the time of year when the school’s are sending reminders that your child’s community service logs will be due soon and to mark your calendar for the May award ceremony in the cafeteria. Now, I know the whole idea of encouraging kids to keep an account of their volunteer hours in an effort to educate them on the importance of giving back is not a bad idea. It’s just flawed because I believe we are teaching them the exact opposite. We, in our trophy happy, grabby-gifty, look at me world, are making a competition out of something that should be expected – to be a functioning member of society. There should be no rewards for that, no shout outs, no social media selfies. It should be muscle memory – something you always do.

Now community service from elementary to high school is, in some cases, a cut throat competition. Gone are the days when families, scout groups and religious organizations would quietly and without fanfare do volunteer work because, quite simply, it feels good. Now, it’s all about writing down every nanosecond you spend doing something for someone else because being a respectable carbon life form isn’t its own reward. Parents want their kids a have a chance to win a prize for it and what parents will do for their kids to win that prize is probably the exact opposite of what “giving back” is all about.

There are the kids who log down time for visiting their grandparents – at their beach house. Did you know putting your neighbors newspaper on their porch also counts as a community service? The best are the birthday parties where a child and 12 of their closest friends go to a non-profit to spend time volunteering. The mom includes on the invitation, right next to the RSVP, how many hours each child will get to write down on their service log sheet. There’s oodles of pictures Instagrammed and Facebooked from the mom about being “So proud of my daughter. This is how she choose to spend her birthday.” The kicker – the kids take a limo to the non-profit and then scurry out to have the “real party” at the American Girl doll store.

This competitive service mania has even evolved into a business. As your kid gets older there are “College Coaches” who will, for a fee, tell you how to massage your child’s “volunteer commitment” so it looks good on college applications? Currently starting a nonprofit is the “must have” for all students wishing to “set themselves apart from the regular volunteer majority.” All you need is a website. My son said he was going to start one called His service hours would be listening to me complain and let me tell he’d have a lot hours to write down.

Now, I know, so please don’t send me emails with your child’s arduous community service listed and with a link to his/her very own non-profit, blog and “I Give Back” Powerpoint, that many, many kids take these hours very seriously. Awesome and bravo. But, I also have experienced volunteering at non profits and sighing when a group of high school kids come in to “get their hours” and they barely can go through the motions to help out.

Is this what we want to teach our kids that picking up a neighbor’s paper and kind of, sort moving around some boxes at a non-profit is what volunteering is all about? That it doesn’t matter if you really did anything as long as you showed up and any good deed over 30 minutes can be rounded up to an hour?

Nope, count me out on this. I’m not signing my name to that – ever.

***For all things wonderfully Snarky go to where you can find the new spring Snarky line of clothing and accessories. (Snarky baseball shirt anyone?) Plus, there’s my book – Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School. (Click here for purchase information.)
 Here’s a little ditty about it: The Spring Creek Elementary School PTA board (a coven of Mean Moms dressed in Uggs, yoga pants, and dermal filler) is up to no good.  Wynn Butler (middle-aged, uncool, and not bringing sexy back) is determined to find out what’s going on. With help from her two kids, a Roomba vacuum turned mobile surveillance drone, and a few good friends, Wynn launches a covert investigation that leads to the “mother of all revenge capers” at the school’s annual Fall Festival.  If you’ve ever fantasized about smoke bombing the idiot parent who has yet to master the fine art of the school drop-off lane, or standing up and shouting, “Liar, liar, Botox on fire” during a PTA meeting, then this delicious tale of payback is for you. To stay up-to-date on new posts and take part in my not so deep thoughts click on this Facebook link – (That’s the abbreviated link to my FB page) or I twitter @snarkynsuburbs.


17 thoughts on “The Volunteer Score Card

  1. This Teacher Has Your Back says:

    No worries Snarky, I have your back on this one. Just like parents fib when they fill out their kid’s reading log (all this different color pens and markers aren’t fooling anyone). I know that they also fudge those volunteer hours. You don’t want to know the stupid things parents allow their kids to list as “volunteering” from cleaning their room to being nice to a sibling. Do I question the hours? No. I have enough to do teaching math etc. The last thing on my list is getting into it with a parent over the flipping service log. The parents, I’m sure, know this and count on it.

    • Linda Lederhosen says:

      See, I won’t fib…kid didn’t so the work, I don’t sign….I guess I’m the lemming swimming downstream while the others swim upstream. It’s hard being that person but I hope my kids will be better for it.

  2. Natalie says:

    OMG, my child has been invited to those “volunteer” birthday parties. You are so right about the moms being all over Facebook about how amazing their child is by volunteering on their birthday. Of course, said kid is more into their new Happy 7th Birthday iPhone 5s than actually doing any of the volunteer work.

  3. Shannon Williams says:

    I think you may be surprised at how many people DO agree with you, there are so many who have the same thoughts. I think you were spot on, I find it sickening that there has to be a reward for everything (ESPECIALLY volunteering!!..or using the potty, but I digress…) – it’s teaching our kids to be braggarts, lazy, entitled, bad mannered, useless human beings. Good on you, Snarky.

  4. Laurel Isaak says:

    Ok, first of all, I have never heard of having to turn in a service log to your school? So I’m now a little concerned that I’ve forgotten to do something… Is this a high school thing? My high school didn’t do this in the 80’s and as far as I know, my kid’s school doesn’t do it. THANK GOD! I have witnessed the “no presents please, just give to my charity” birthday party. What eight year old doesn’t want presents on their birthday?

    My major concern with this practice though is that it is teaching kids not to respect their own personal boundaries. In other words, be busy at all cost! Fill every spare hour you have with something and always put yourself last! Just like on the airplane, you can do more for others when you put your own oxygen mask on first!

    I can’t believe you are receiving hate mail over this!

  5. bea says:

    I don’t disagree, but I have a suggestion…
    I went to college on a service-based scholarship, and I really liked the way we were expected to complete and report service: each semester we signed off on things like having an adequate GPA, having registered for next term’s classes on time, etc. Also included was a tiny field where we were asked to estimate, in hours, how much service we completed– that’s it. Didn’t matter what kind, didn’t matter if we did more or less than the next kid.
    (Of course, anyone who put a big fat zero would have gotten a call from the scholarship director to ask what went wrong. They would want an explanation for why we had not been, as you put it, “a functioning member of society.”)
    This way we were reminded, concretely, of the standing expectation that a zero is just not ok, but without any context or scale to assign relative values to the non-zeros. Maybe schools that track service can consider the reminder the benefit worth keeping, and the other details can be let go?

  6. Julie the Workaholic says:

    I don’t get the hate mail…I think you are spot on, and I, for one, applaud you! I just don’t get the whole “reward for decency” concept. I imagine that you are like me in that we were both raised to just pay it forward without any expectations of a reward or attagirl.

    Snaps to you for putting it out there.

    My “baby” graduated last year, and I don’t recall ever having to sign confirmation that he did the right thing, but then, he did a lot of it through trips with his ROTC group, soooo….but I’m thinking they weren’t rewarded.

    Way to go!

  7. Wendy says:

    This has been a big pet peeve of mine for a few years… I complain to my husband all of the time about this! My son does a lot of volunteering. He has been given many opportunities in our church. He happily volunteers with so many things. He does this because he wants to and knows it’s the right thing to do. There are kids at our Middle School that are trying to get into National Honor Society that need to record their “wonderful” volunteer efforts. They show up at church to help. While the help is appreciated, I know that most of them would not be there if they weren’t getting credit for it. I also can’t stand to hear the parents brag about their kids community service and aren’t they just so wonderful. You hit the nail right on the head.

  8. Maria Jose Degregorio says:

    I’ve read many of your columns, and they never fail to make me laugh. Not this one though, this one actually scared me. You mean to tell me that you actually got HATE MAIL because of this piece of writing? Who on their right mind does that? I live in a different country and a different society, and I don’t have children, but I truly find this behaviour pretty much astonishing and not in a good way. That said, and just for the laugh mind you, can we have some samples of those ridiculous mails? Pretty please? With a strawberry on top? (me no like cherries)

  9. Linda Lederhosen says:

    You speak my language Ms. Snarky, you really do. Agree 100%. Please tell me where I can find a reali life friend like you because most of the moms around here buy into the competitiveness you describe.

  10. Suburban Snapshots says:

    I haven’t heard of this, so your post has educated me. While I am all for volunteer recognition (because people who dedicate their work and time deserve to be thanked and need to be appreciated), I think your point is spot on. And now I know to keep an eye out for this as my kindergartner goes through the grades.

  11. Josie Orrick says:

    Amen, amen, amen! My kids aren’t of the age where we’re logging hours yet (I’m sure it’s coming), but I’ve had ethical issues with rewarding volunteer hours at my job. At a PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL. As part of the “advance” application (to earn a extra money every year) you have to get someone to sign some paperwork that says you volunteer in a pediatric setting. Yes, I volunteer at my kids school every week and get huge non-tangible rewards from it. No, I absolutely will not ask my daughter’s first grade teacher to sign a piece of paper so I can get an extra check. Ridiculous. This reward system is trickling down to our kids. It’s heartbreaking.

  12. Pearl ;) says:

    Nailed this topic!!! Thank you for addressing this to the masses. The “volunteer” hours and bragging are OUT OF CONTROL!!! I just try to teach my kids to “do something good, without letting anyone know you did it”. In the end, it doesn’t matter who knows, because YOU KNOW. My kids love to help, but they also love their down time from school. They need to decompress. Good lord, homework alone…..because 7 hrs of school and extra curricular wasn’t enough? I say, just do what makes you happy and who cares about what others are doing. Squeaky wheel NEEDS the oil. Thirsty bitches.

  13. MN Hockey Mom says:

    I’m with you on this as well Snarky. I’m a “stay at home” mom of three. My kids are older, and we’ve done a ton of volunteering over the years. This said, I’ve never done anything I didn’t want to do, nor have I expected something in return. I’ll confess that I was burned out by a few overbearing parents, and rarely lead anymore. I’m a happy helper. And we did have a couple “Humane Society” Birthdays, as my kid did not need 20 more Nerf guns. But the Humane Society was something from my kid’s heart. Delivering the dog bones and cat food made their Birthday far more special than a bunch of plastic stuff that would break in a week. So when my kids hit Middle School and had to create a project and log hours I was incensed. The school managed to turn what we do into some ridiculous hoop to jump through. And to make it worse, now we were apparently doing it because the school said so, not because it’s what we just do. Their hoops did not change anyone’s behavior. It really hit me in High School when I had a neighbor call me to ask if I would vouch for her son. Apparently he needed to show “service hours” for National Honor Society so he was going to pick up trash for our association one day. Really?! Somehow I don’t think that’s what the National Honor Society had in mind?!

    I’m with you 100% on this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s